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Comedy in the ’90s, Part 1: ‘Wayne’s World’ Starts the Party

It may seem like a dumb comedy, but take a closer look and you can see that the highly referential, highly quotable tale about two slackers breaking into the TV business was made by smart people, a formula that helped launch a golden age of funny movies

Dan Evans

Nearly 30 years ago, a handful of smart people set out with one mission: To make some silly movies. What followed was a true golden age of Hollywood comedy that saw the arrival of megastars still with us today, a commercial explosion, and then, an eventual splintering that changed the genre forever. Welcome to Part 1 of Comedy in the ’90s, a six-part series documenting this decade-defining boom in all of its sophomoric glory. We start—where else?—in a basement in the suburbs of Chicago.

On August 30, 1992, the collision of two of the most dominant pop cultural forces of 1992 was captured in a single moment of grainy video. Leading up to Nirvana’s legendary set at the Reading Festival in southeast England, Kurt Cobain was pushed out onto the stage in a wheelchair. Dressed in a hospital gown as a sarcastic nod to media reports about his supposedly failing health, the wiseass lead singer used the microphone stand to pull himself up before belting out the first line of Bette Midler’s “The Rose.” Then, he staged a dramatic backward pratfall to the ground, where he stayed for a few seconds before standing up, grabbing his guitar, and launching into “Breed.”

What you don’t see in the official recording is the footage of Cobain before he and the rest of Nirvana come on. Director Brett Morgen’s documentary Kurt Cobain: Montage of Heck, however, opens with a clip of the frontman and those pre-show moments. While wearing a shearling coat and a long blond wig, Cobain peeks out at the crowd of 50,000, turns back, takes a drag from a cigarette, inches very close to the camera, and then he says it: “Party on, Wayne.”

This was the power of Wayne’s World: cool enough to be quoted by the biggest rock star in the world, and universal enough for the whole world to get the joke. It’s impossible to scientifically measure something’s cultural influence, but in those days no movie pervaded the American mainstream as relentlessly. Seemingly everyone, from suburban teenagers to their heroes and parents, repeated its catchphrases—from “Party on!” to “Schwing!” to “We’re not worthy!”—like sacred text. William Safire dedicated one of his “On Language” columns in The New York Times Magazine to the prevalence of “Not!” Newspapers even began running stories explaining the movie’s lexicon to parents.

In hindsight, Wayne’s World doesn’t feel innovative. Based on a Saturday Night Live sketch of the same name, the film tells the story of Wayne Campbell (Mike Myers) and Garth Algar (Dana Carvey), two underemployed 20-something friends who host a public-access television show from Wayne’s parents’ basement. But through the unique language of the script (to repeat: “Schwing!”), metajokes (“Contract or no, I will not bow to any sponsor,” Wayne says while holding a slice of Pizza Hut pizza and smizing at the camera), dozens of pop culture references (everything from Scanners to Laverne & Shirley), an iconic soundtrack (Queen, Jimi Hendrix), a punk rock director in Penelope Spheeris, and most of all, the performances of Myers and Carvey, the movie was groundbreaking. Wayne’s World proclaimed that “everything in culture was worthy of satire and parody,” says Kurt Fuller, who plays the TV director Russell in the movie.

And because of this approach, the movie was ubiquitous for nearly a full decade. When Wayne’s World came out on VHS, it set rental records. And on a deeper level, its fingerprints could be seen in many of the comedies that would go on to rule the box office in the 1990s. Like many of the funniest movies of the decade, Wayne’s World was created by the first generation of SNL stars who actually grew up in the society that SNL mocked. Weaned on cable TV, pop music, and idols like John Belushi and Bill Murray, this talented group made films that were crass, silly, and often far more clever than necessary. These were Gen X coming-of-age stories; the tales of emotionally stunted protagonists struggling to grow up. And naturally, this brand of fart-joke-filled cinema appealed to a generation of teenagers who, in kind, wouldn’t dare fathom adulthood. If comedy in the ’90s had a slogan, it might be this: about adults, for adolescents.

While not exactly timeless—one of its most memorable gags is a parody of a Grey Poupon mustard ad that no one younger than 30 likely remembers—Wayne’s World signaled a passing of the comedy torch. By the early ’90s, the Wild and Crazy Guys of SNL’s first decade were no longer regularly churning out memorable films. But unlike today, people were still flocking to theaters to see funny movies. From 1990 to 1999, at least two live-action comedies ranked among the top 10 highest-grossing films each year. In 1990 and 1991, five comedies—Kindergarten Cop, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, Hot Shots!, City Slickers, and The Addams Family—all made at least $175 million. Home Alone and Pretty Woman both cleared $460 million. In stark contrast to the current era of moviegoing—in which a big-budget comedy featuring two proven stars struggles to break even—the ’90s was a decade in which comedy was a gold mine, thanks to the joint arrival of mold-breaking styles and a handful of comedic supernovas.

In the case of the comedy boom of the ’90s, the genre’s mainstream explosion slightly opened the door for fresher, more diverse takes and voices. The director-producer team of Reginald and Warrington Hudlin initially struggled to get a green light for their 1990 classic House Party, as studio executives couldn’t wrap their heads around the fact that the young African American filmmakers were planning something closer to a John Hughes flick with a black cast than one by Spike Lee. But when all was said and done, House Party made $26.4 million, against a $2.5 million budget, and laid waste to conventional wisdom.

Over the next few years, more relatively cheaply made comedies that studios once viewed simply as filler outperformed expectations: Ace Ventura: Pet Detective, Billy Madison, Tommy Boy, Clueless, Friday, and on and on. As a whole, the ’90s was a decade of comedic renaissance, a time when creative innovation aligned with the commercial interests of the moviegoing public; and a time when the exploits of a set of certain man-children were one of Hollywood’s safest bets; a time when experimentation flourished. And in many ways, it can all be traced back to Wayne’s World.

Michael Myers and Dana Carvey as Wayne and Garth
NBC via Getty Images

Long before Wayne’s World was a phenomenon, it was just a bit that Mike Myers came up with to make his friends laugh. Growing up in the ’70s and ’80s in suburban Toronto with a Liverpudlian father who fed his son’s sense of humor with a heavy dose of English comedy, Myers modeled the softhearted, sneakily intelligent metalhead Wayne Campbell after himself and his childhood friends. (Some of whom were actually named Wayne.)

“I was always a student who liked to hang out with guys who partied—and get my homework done,” Myers told Rolling Stone in 1992. “People just thought I was an idiot who liked to party. People always underestimate Wayne’s intellect.”

By his early 20s, he’d begun playing his long-haired, jeans-and-black-T-shirt-wearing alter ego on Canadian TV. In the mid-’80s, Wayne popped up on MuchMusic as VJ Christopher Ward’s cousin. Ward, a musician who’s written songs for artists like the Backstreet Boys and Diana Ross, thought that even the early incarnation of the character was fully realized. “There was a precision about Mike’s work that was part of the brilliance of it,” Ward says. “So Wayne Campbell had that whole quality of verisimilitude about him. A typical suburban guy with a ball hat.” On the CBC’s It’s Only Rock and Roll, the character hosted “Wayne’s Power Minute,” a recurring segment in which he mused, while dropping catchphrases, about guitars, babes, and partying. (He also occasionally referenced Shakespeare.)

Myers took the character with him to the Second City, the improv troupe that had launched, among many others, the careers of John Belushi, Dan Aykroyd, Gilda Radner, and Bill Murray. If you search hard enough on YouTube, you’ll find a video of a 1986 Second City sketch featuring Wayne Campbell bickering with his girlfriend. “I’m not a party animal,” he says at one point. “I’m a human being!”

In January 1989, in the middle of the 14th season of the series, Myers joined the cast of Saturday Night Live. For the bit to work on the show, Wayne needed a best buddy. Thus, Garth Algar was born—and as it turns out, SNL had someone who was perfect to play him. At that time, Dana Carvey was the show’s most valuable performer, having already played Church Lady, and shown off his pitch-perfect impressions of George H.W. Bush and Johnny Carson. But he vaulted to even greater heights with the bespectacled, lovable nerd—who he based on his brother Brad, who once fixed the family dryer with a butter knife. (His mechanically inclined sibling went on to become an engineer and helped create the editing and production tool called the Video Toaster.)

The first appearance of “Wayne’s World” on SNL was on February 18, 1989, a day after the release of another buddy comedy starring two dudes who critics later compared to Wayne and Garth: Bill & Ted’s Excellent Adventure. Looking back on that first sketch, it is already a polished version of Myers’s goofy vision. Not only did the slacker buds have their own show; they also had their own language, punctuating sentences with their soon-to-be trademark phrases of “Party on!” and “Excellent!” During a call-in segment, there’s a discussion about how the guy on the phone’s girlfriend “blew chunks” on him. There’s even a David Letterman–style Top 10 list, which became a “Wayne’s World” staple.

“I remember I thought, ‘Is Wayne gonna play? Isn’t this a suburban Toronto character?’” Ward says. “And when I saw it on SNL, I realized, no, this character’s absolutely universal. There’s a guy just like this outside Poughkeepsie, outside Bakersfield. There’s a kid that talks like that and probably looks like that.” (Through representatives, Myers and Carvey declined to be interviewed for this article.)

Within months, the sketch had become a Saturday Night Live fixture. Each incarnation seemed to top the last: Wayne played one-on-one hockey with Wayne Gretzky; Aerosmith and their roadie Tom Hanks once visited and played the show-within-a-show’s theme song with Wayne and Garth (the band’s breakfast at Wayne’s house was captured on a “nook cam”); Madonna even showed up in one of Wayne’s dreams. When she asked if he’d ever made love to two women at the same time, he answered yes. “I believe you,” she replied, pausing for a beat before, of course, blurting out “Not!”

“Wayne’s World” stayed in the show’s rotation for the next three-plus years. “When I went to L.A., I was at the Carnegie Deli,” Myers told the Toronto Star during his second season on SNL, “and the woman behind the counter went, ‘Wayne’s World! Wayne’s World! Party on! Excellent!’” By then, Myers’s ambitions had already moved beyond SNL. “If I had a five-year plan,” he said to USA Today, “it would be to act, write, and direct movies—not comedies.”

In September 1990, SNL creator and executive producer Lorne Michaels signed a production deal with Paramount Pictures. The next year, he approached Myers about turning “Wayne’s World” into a feature film. SNL staffers Bonnie and Terry Turner teamed up with Myers to write the screenplay. But before production could begin, Michaels needed to hire a director.

Myers and Tia Carrere in Wayne’s World
Paramount Pictures

One day in the mid-’70s, Lorne Michaels announced his future plans for small-screen domination to Penelope Spheeris, a close friend of his then-wife Rosie Shuster. “He was sitting in my living room,” says Spheeris, “and he said, ‘Well, I think I’m gonna go to New York and maybe try to start some live TV show.’”

Knowing that Spheeris had just finished UCLA film school, Michaels asked her to work with him on what would become Saturday Night Live. She said no; after all, she had a young daughter and liked living in L.A. “He goes, ‘If you want to stay here that’s fine but if I need anything there I’ll give you a call,’” Spheeris recalls. Sure enough, Michaels soon phoned her and asked if she could teach a “really funny guy” who he’d discovered how to make movies. His name was Albert Brooks; Spheeris ended up producing seven of the comedian’s SNL short films and his 1979 directorial debut Real Life.

Soon after that, Spheeris struck out on her own. The Decline of Western Civilization, her raw documentary about the L.A. punk scene, was released in 1981. After spending most of that decade directing low-budget films, she made a follow-up to her first music doc: 1988’s The Decline of Western Civilization Part II: The Metal Years, focusing on the likes of Ozzy Osbourne and Aerosmith. Spheeris’s connection to heavy metal, she thinks, led Michaels to consider her for Wayne’s World. “Lorne’s not gonna sit down, even when he was a young guy, and watch somebody’s shit and figure out if he wanted to hire them,” Spheeris says. “He’s just gonna meet him and go, ‘OK, I like you,’ or, ‘Forget it, I don’t.’” Still, Spheeris says that she had to sit through four or five meetings at Paramount before getting hired.

She was at the Patton State psychiatric hospital, where she was preparing to shoot a documentary about the patients therein, when her agent called and told her she landed the directing gig. Getting the job changed Spheeris’s life—it still shocks her. “People, especially young women filmmakers, come to me and say, ‘How did you do it? How did you do it?’” she says. “I was 45 years old when I did Wayne’s World. I had been virtually broke up until that time. And so I became a multimillionaire overnight. They gave me a righteous percentage of the box office.” But, she makes sure to note, “They didn’t know that it was gonna be that successful.”

On August 2, 1991, Paramount announced that principal photography had begun on Wayne’s World. In addition to Myers and Carvey, the cast included Tia Carrere as rock singer/Wayne’s love interest Cassandra, Lara Flynn Boyle as Wayne’s ex-girlfriend Stacy, and Married … With Children star Ed O’Neill as the shady manager of Stan Mikita’s Donuts. (Because the movie was set in Aurora, Illinois, not in Toronto, they named the hangout spot after a Chicago Blackhawks legend.) On the recommendation of Michaels, Spheeris gave budding SNL star Chris Farley a small part as a security guard at an Alice Cooper concert. When she cast him, Michaels warned her that Farley was scared to be on camera. “Those weird jerky movements that he’s doing, when he’s telling [Wayne and Garth] which way to go,” she says, “I think that was the result of his nervousness.”

When it came time to find someone to play Benjamin, the smarmy TV executive who wants to turn Wayne and Garth’s DIY show into a corporate operation, Michaels suggested Rob Lowe. Spheeris couldn’t believe it. Two years prior, video had surfaced of the then-24-year-old actor having sex with a 16-year-old girl in a hotel room in Atlanta during the 1988 Democratic National Convention. To avoid charges related to the sexual exploitation of a minor the actor signed an agreement to enter a pre-trial diversion program that required him to complete 20 hours of community service.

“I said, ‘Oh my God, Lorne, we can’t cast Rob Lowe,’” Spheeris remembers. “‘He was just caught in bed with an underage girl.’ And Lorne said, ‘Oh, yes. We can probably get him very cheap, then.’ And he was right!”

Penelope Spheeris and Dana Carvey on set
Paramount Pictures

When a movie screenplay undergoes edits, typically each new page of dialogue is printed on a different color of paper. By the time the filming of Wayne’s World was finished, the script looked like it had been tie-dyed. “We went through all the colors,” Spheeris said. “I mean, marigold, persimmon …”

It wasn’t just the script that kept changing. The entire production of Wayne’s World always felt like it was in flux. “With Penelope it seemed to be chaos every day,” Fuller says. “She did a great documentary, The Decline of Western Civilization, about punk rock. And this movie was sort of talking about the decline of Western Civilization in a very comedic way. I always found that ironic. That same kind of punk ethos sort of pervaded the set. It was very free-form.”

As loose as things were, the movie’s stars took their roles very seriously. Carvey, for one, was no longer satisfied acting only as Myers’s sidekick. “Obviously the show was fine, and then once we got into feature-film territory, defining the roles was a little harder,” Carvey said in Live From New York, Tom Shales and James Andrew Miller’s oral history of SNL. “That’s as delicately as I can put it. When it was just a sketch, I would just be reactive and laugh really hard and support him.”

Myers, meanwhile, seemingly had an opinion on every choice made on the film—Wayne’s World was his baby. Spheeris remembers arguing with him and the Turners about which Southern California home to use for exterior shots of Wayne’s parents’ place. “You know how in the beginning he goes, ‘Hi, I’m Wayne,’ And he walks out and gets in the basement, right?” Spheeris says. “If you look at that house, it looks like every fucking house in the Valley.” Even so, Spheeris and Myers checked out about 50 houses before picking one.

Myers and Carvey spent the hectic shoot, which lasted only 34 days, attempting both to work together and to one-up each other. “It’s not like they butted heads or argued a lot or anything,” Spheeris says. “But I’ll tell you what they did—and Lorne teaches all of his people to do this—and that is compete with each other. Lorne loves—I don’t care if you quote me, I’m getting too old for this shit—to have people argue and try and please him and compete with each other to the point where someone’s in tears.” (Michaels did not respond to requests for comment.) If Myers pitched something new, then Carvey would, too. Like, for example, when the latter suggested installing a licorice dispenser in the ceiling of his car. When Spheeris told the prop master the idea, he asked whether she was joking. She told him no; in went the contraption.

Executive producer Hawk Koch, an A.D. on Chinatown, The Way We Were, and Marathon Man, remembers Myers and Carvey each frequently calling Michaels in New York to share their thoughts about the ever-changing movie. Occasionally, the SNL boss visited the set. Lee Tergesen, who plays Wayne and Garth’s buddy Terry, remembers one day when Michaels was on hand for the filming of a scene at Mikita’s. After a long take, the producer walked out of the fake doughnut shop past Tergesen, who jokingly asked, “Anything for me, Mr. Michaels?” His reply: “Don’t ever speak directly to me again.” Tergesen later asked Myers and Carvey if Michaels was kidding. They had no idea.

“He kind of keeps everybody on eggshells,” Koch says. For Michaels, inscrutability was a useful trait while making a TV show that thrives on creative people competing to get their sketches on the air. But making movies was different. “Me being a producer for many years in Hollywood and an assistant director who believed in prep, we bumped heads a few times because I wanted to know exactly what we were gonna do and Lorne didn’t want to tell everybody what we were gonna do,” Koch says. “But it worked out. It really worked out.”

Over the past nearly three decades, countless stories have circulated about the tension between Spheeris and Myers during the making of Wayne’s World. “I always say I had to shoot the movie a few different ways,” Spheeris said. “I shot it Mike’s way, I shot it Dana’s way, I shot it my way. Sometimes I shot it the Bonnie-Terry and Lorne way. But I knew that when I got into the editing room I could put it together the way that I wanted. And that’s what I did.”

For years after the release of the movie, the relationship between Carvey and Myers, who were never close friends in the first place, seemed distant at best. (Carvey has said that Myers took his impression of Michaels and used it as the basis for Austin Powers villain Dr. Evil.) If there was a true rift between them in the early ’90s, it didn’t detract from Wayne’s World.

In fact, the unstructured atmosphere on the set often led to inspiration. Alice Cooper, who happily made a cameo after Aerosmith turned down a chance to appear in the movie, delivered his oft-quoted backstage speech about Milwaukee—“Actually, it’s pronounced Mee-lee-wah-kay, Algonquin for ‘The Good Land’”—after it was written for him on the spot. “He goes, ‘Are you crazy? I’m supposed to remember all this shit?’” Spheeris says. “‘I need time to rehearse it.’ But he did it!”

Aerosmith performs on “Wayne’s World” on ‘Saturday Night Live’
NBC via Getty Images

Coming off of Terminator 2: Judgment Day, Robert Patrick also reprised his role as the T-1000, a liquid metal cyborg that for most of the 1991 blockbuster takes the shape of a motorcycle cop. In Wayne’s World, he originally was supposed to pull over a scared Wayne and say, “Do you know you were speeding?” When the scene was being filmed, Koch’s 13-year-old son Robby was on set. After watching it unfold, the teenager declared, “That’s not funny.” Koch was mortified, but Myers wisely responded by asking why it wasn’t funny. Robby explained that in T2, the killer robot actually held up a Polaroid of John Connor and asked, “Have you seen this boy?” As a reward for piping up, Robby got his picture taken, and in the slightly tweaked sequence, Patrick flashes that photo.

The movie’s most memorable scene might not have happened if Myers hadn’t spoken up. Wayne, Garth, and their friends were supposed to be headbangers—albeit awfully gentle ones—and they needed an iconic song to headbang to. During a family vacation to England in 1975, Myers had heard Queen’s operatic “Bohemian Rhapsody” on the radio and became obsessed with it. He, his brother, and their friends spent their teen years singing along with the six-minute, tongue-in-cheek anthem in a powder-blue Dodge Dart Swinger.

Myers knew it would be funny to replicate that experience on screen. The problem was that Michaels wanted to use a Guns N’ Roses song. “He just kept saying, ‘You’ll forgive me if I want to make this movie a hit,’” Myers told Rolling Stone in 2015. “He was just testing my passion for it. Movies are the most expensive entertainment device created by man, and he wanted to make sure that we were doing everything that was the most entertaining. But sometimes it’s just a little voice that tells you that if ‘Bohemian Rhapsody’ was big in my house, it was probably big in other people’s houses too.” At one point, Myers threatened to quit the movie if “Bohemian Rhapsody” was swapped out for another song.

He won the argument. Filming the “Bohemian Rhapsody” sing-along in Garth’s powder-blue, flame-accented 1976 AMC Pacer, however, proved to be far more physically demanding than expected. In the Rolling Stone oral history of the scene, Myers and Carvey talk about how hours of bobbing their heads caused them to have neck pain. Spheeris has said that she even had to convince Myers to keep going; he feared that the bit wasn’t funny. “I was afraid that we’d pissed on a Picasso,” he said in the 2015 article. “As a well-meaning, 20-something Canadian, I just wanted to be respectful to the song and honor it.” Myers didn’t realize it at the time, but the scene would become the comedy’s signature moment.

One of the benefits of low expectations is that you’re left alone. Wayne’s World, the first big-screen adaptation of a Saturday Night Live sketch since The Blues Brothers in 1980, certainly had low expectations. Paramount didn’t expect the movie to be a hit, and since it had a budget of only $14 million, the studio chose not to micromanage the production. The comedy, Spheeris said, was “just this little piece of shit they didn’t care about. They didn’t bug us.”

Then the test screenings started. Koch recalls that at one showing at a theater in Wayne, New Jersey, 98 percent of the audience rated the film “excellent” and 2 percent “very good.” “You’re hoping to get 60 percent ‘excellent’ and ‘very good,’” he says. “Really good movies get 75 to 90 percent.”

Soon, Paramount began to realize that the movie had potential. At a screening in L.A., Spheeris remembers standing among a handful of executives congratulating themselves. “I was in the circle of guys and then all the sudden they got closer together and I found myself pushed out of the circle and looking at the back of some suit,” she says. “And I thought, ‘Ugh, fuck you guys.’ But they run like cockroaches if the movie flops. Nobody takes credit for it.”

When Myers saw a cut of the movie, he gave Spheeris several pages of suggested changes. In response, the director told Myers that the film worked as is. “Lorne took me aside and said, ‘Penelope, if you don’t make those changes he’s not gonna approve you doing Wayne’s World 2,’” she says. But Spheeris didn’t budge. “She had a vision of what the movie was and could be,” Koch adds. “And all of us were there to help her with that vision. And she did it.”

On February 14, 1992, Wayne’s World opened. Over its first four days in theaters, it made $18.1 million, a President’s Day weekend record at the time. Like The Simpsons, which was then coming into its prime, the movie mixed absurdist humor, sharp satire, and heart. It lampooned product placement while also embracing it; it was also, for better or worse, endlessly quotable. And unlike any other movie at the time, Wayne’s World had three endings—literally. “We set out, with Wayne’s World, to do two things,” Spheeris says. “One was to make a smart comedy, not a dumb comedy. And two, always to be ahead of the audience. So whatever the audience thought was gonna happen, we made a turn.”

The late Bernie Brillstein, who managed a raft of comedy icons, had told her after the table read that he thought the script was funny but that that the film’s unique climax would never work. “I said, ‘You wanna bet?’” Spheeris remembers with a laugh. “He goes, ‘Yeah.’ I go, ‘I’ll bet you 100 bucks.’ … That bastard died before I could get my money.”

On the way to grossing $183.1 million globally, Wayne’s World ruled the box office for more than a month before Basic Instinct knocked it out of the top perch. At the same time, “Bohemian Rhapsody” started climbing the charts again. One L.A. radio station’s program director said that kids were calling to request “Bohemian Rap City.” In 1992, the song peaked at no. 2 on the Hot 100, seven spots higher than it did in 1976.

It turns out that before Wayne’s World was released, Myers sent a tape of the “Bohemian Rhapsody” scene to Queen guitarist Brian May, who showed it to Freddie Mercury. The ailing lead singer, who died on November 24, 1991, loved it. Spheeris also directed a new “Bohemian Rhapsody” video featuring footage from the movie. At the 1992 MTV Video Music Awards, which Carvey hosted, the clip won the award for “Best Video From a Film,” which May accepted, saying, “Freddie would be very pleased.”

Soon after the release of Wayne’s World, Fred Wolf, who had just started as a guest writer on Saturday Night Live, ran into Lorne Michaels and the men behind Wayne and Garth in a hallway. “These are the biggest guys in comedy right now,” Wolf remembers thinking. “Wayne’s World was so huge. It was a surprise monster hit. I was kind of tongue-tied.” Wolf, who went on to doctor the script of Tommy Boy and write Black Sheep, Joe Dirt, and Dirty Work, credits Myers and Carvey’s film with informing his own work. “It was the same experience as mine on Tommy Boy, which happened about three or four years later,” Wolf said. “... They were given the keys to the kingdom and told, ‘Yeah, here’s your cameras and here’s your identity and give us something fast and funny.’ And it worked.”

After Myers and Carvey teamed up in 1993 to make the disappointing Wayne’s World 2, their paths diverged. The former starred in So I Married an Axe Murderer, a box office bomb with a tumultuous production that wouldn’t find a cult audience until years later. Myers left SNL in 1995 and didn’t appear in another movie until 1997’s British spy movie spoof Austin Powers: International Man of Mystery. In that surprise, sequel-spawning hit, he played the title role and his foil.

As for Carvey—“by far the funniest, most talented person” on set, according to Kurt Fuller—the success of Wayne’s World never catapulted him to superstardom. Not long after the 1992 election, Carvey said goodbye to SNL. That same year, when David Letterman left NBC for CBS, Carvey reportedly was tapped as his Late Night replacement, but turned down the job, betting on his movie career. And in 1994 alone, he did appear in three comedies—Clean Slate, The Road to Wellville, and Trapped in Paradise—but there was no blockbuster franchise in his future.

As she expected, Spheeris was shut out of the Wayne’s World sequel, which took in only $48.2 million at the box office. The next movie she directed was an update of The Beverly Hillbillies. “People always go, ‘Why did you do Beverly Hillbillies?’” Spheeris says. “Well, because I couldn’t get the movies done that I wanted to do and they paid me $2.5 million. What was I supposed to do? Just like fade away or something after Wayne’s World?”

Over time, any supposed feuds tied to the movie have seemed to thaw. In 2013, when Koch was the president of the Academy of Motion Picture Arts and Sciences, he moderated a Wayne’s World reunion panel with Myers, Carvey, Spheeris, Michaels, and Rob Lowe. Before the event, Koch invited everyone to his office. The feeling in the room, he said, was “OK, whatever’s happened over 25 and a half years, we still remember the fun.”

These days, Wayne’s World’s most lasting legacy is the universe of big-screen comedy it helped spawn, in ways direct and indirect. From 1993 to 2000, eight more SNL-derived comedies were produced. None were terribly memorable; some, like It’s Pat and Stuart Saves His Family, were downright terrible. To date, Wayne’s World remains by far the highest-grossing SNL flick.

But while the movie may not have led to SNL’s domination of the box office, it did help establish the decade’s prevailing style of on-screen humor. In a post-Wayne world, man-children reigned supreme. Though even as the immature icons of the era began to rise to the top—the Sandlers, the Farleys, the Carreys—they notably did so in comedies that, like Wayne’s World, were sharper than they looked on the surface. “It’s dumb comedy done by smart people,” Myers told Entertainment Weekly in 2008, summing up an assessment of his sensibility once made by Kids in the Hall cofounder Dave Foley.

Wayne’s World was sui generis, but it inspired a generation of clever and profane slackers, revolutionized the language of modern comedy, and proved that with up-and-coming stars there was big money to be made in the genre—for a time, at least. Wayne and Garth didn’t know it, but the party they started would continue for years to come.

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